July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Hans Fallada


Fallada at work.

Fallada at work.

Today is the birthday of German author Hans Fallada, (the pen name of Rudolph Ditzen), who was born on this date in 1893. Fallada was an internationally acclaimed author prior to WWII, held a bestseller in the US and UK and held on a par with Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse. But unlike those authors, Fallada remained in Germany during World War II, and he soon fell afoul of the Nazis. Pressure from Josef Goebbels to write an anti-Semitic novel contributed to a breakdown that led Fallada, near the end of the war, to find himself in a Nazi insane asylum. He never recovered, and although he outlasted the Nazis, his substance abuse problems and general instability led to his demise barely a year after the war’s end.

Though still widely read in Germany, Fallada’s work had been largely forgotten in the English-speaking world, until Melville House‘s current project to revive his oeuvre, an effort that began with the first-ever English translation of Fallada’s last book, his masterpiece about life in Berlin during WWII, Every Man Dies Alone — a publication that was hailed by the New York Times Book Review as the “signal literary event of 2009.” Melville House simultaneously re-released editions of Fallada’s first major bestseller, Little Man, What Now, and his late tour-de-force The Drinker — a book Fallada wrote secretly during his stay in the insane asylum, which, as with Every Man Dies Alone, only saw its first publication after Fallada’s death.

Melville House plans to release at least three more Fallada novels over the next two years, but meanwhile the hopes that Fallada’s reputation would be restored to its pre-war status may just be working — after sitting untranslated for decades, since its release by Melville House, rights for Every Man Dies Alone have been sold to Italy, Brazil, Spain, and elsewhere, and French filmmaker Vincent Perez has bought film rights.

Happy Birthday, Rudolph Ditzen.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.